According to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) there were over 72 million cases of diabetes in India in 2017. As per the National Health Portal, diabetes is the ninth leading cause of death in women globally causing 2.1 million deaths per year.
Although it is quite common now-a-days, the condition is not detected until late in its course. It is mostly during a routine health check-up that a person gets to know about an increase in the blood glucose levels. Moreover, the symptoms of diabetes such as excessive tiredness, weight loss and increased thirst, are often ignored. When asked why symptoms of diabetes remain hidden, here is what Dr Pradeep Gadge, Diabetologist, Mumbai said.
Why is diabetes detected late?
Type 2 diabetes is asymptomatic, which means it does not show symptoms for a long time. For example, if a person feels excessively thirsty then they might think it is due to the weather and not a symptom of diabetes. The same rule applies to other symptoms of diabetes such as increased urination and fatigue. These again are non-specific, which means they could be because of a number of health reasons and hence, they are not considered as warning signs. As these symptoms are ignored, diabetes remains undetected until the high blood glucose levels start attacking other organs such as the kidneys, eyes and heart.
Secondly, Type 2 diabetes progresses at a very slow pace, which makes it difficult for any of the key warning signs to appear early. When a person suffers from this condition, there is a gradual decrease in the production or use of insulin, which often fails to show any symptoms. This impairs the uptake of glucose by the body. However, it happens at a very slow rate and the body fails to pick clues about the changes in the body. But over a period of time, the production of insulin is severely impaired. This causes the accumulation of glucose in the body, which is when the symptoms manifest.
Hence, as the changes in the body occur at a slow pace, the body gets used to it and there may not be any discernible symptoms until it becomes severe. This is the reason why it is often said that NO symptoms are one of the most common symptoms of Type 2 diabetes.
How to detect diabetes early?
Only if a person gets screened for diabetes at regular intervals or closely watches out the signs or knows the risk factors, it is possible to detect the condition at an early stage. Hence, the first and foremost thing to do is to look if a person falls under the risk group of Type 2 diabetes. The list of factors that increase the risk of type 2 diabetes include –
If you are overweight or obese: It is advised that an overweight person with a BMI greater than or equal to 25 with risk factors for diabetes should get tested for the condition. The risk factors include a family history of diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease. Also if you have a sedentary lifestyle or suffer from polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOD) and are overweight, then you must get tested for diabetes.
If you suffer from prediabetes: If your doctor says that you have prediabetes, also known as borderline diabetes, then it is recommended to undergo a yearly screening for diabetes. This is because pre-diabetics are at a high risk of suffering from diabetes if the blood glucose levels are not controlled. Hence, if you have HbA1c levels greater than or equal to 5.7%, get screened without fail.
If you are pregnant: Yes, it goes without saying that women who were diagnosed with gestational diabetes need to undergo testing for diabetes, even if their blood glucose levels are well under control. This is because there is always a risk of suffering from diabetes if you had high blood glucose levels during pregnancy. Hence, it is mandatory for every woman to get tested every three years for the rest of their life if suffering from gestational diabetes.
If you are above 45 years: If you are above 45 years of age, it is wise to get screened for diabetes to be safe. It only helps you to detect any changes in your blood glucose level as you age but also helps you to get it treated at an early stage. Even if your results are well within a normal range, you need to get tested every three years based on the risk factors and initial results.
If wounds/ulcers fail to heal: It becomes difficult to diagnose diabetes based on the symptoms as they appear late (as the disease progresses). However, there are certain signs that can help you get a slight hint of the condition such as slow healing of mouth ulcers or wounds. This can help you to detect the condition following a blood test.
Given the current lifestyle, most people who are obese or in the high-risk category need to be cautious. Being aware of the condition, closely monitoring the changes that happen in the body and undergoing regular screening can help you in the diagnosis of diabetes, even if the symptoms remain hidden.